EU violating standard on environmental justice

The bodies that enforce the Aarhus Convention, which guarantees public access to information and justice in environmental matters, have ruled that the EU is not compliant with the convention and is showing a lack of respect for the rule of law on environmental justice.

A complaint was filed several years ago alleging the EU was in breach of the convention due to the very limited possibilities NGOs and citizens have for seeking justice at EU level and for bringing cases to the European Court of Justice (pictured). The committee that looks after compliance with the convention has now ruled that the complaint is justified.

The EU and its member states are signatories to the Aarhus Convention, and the EU has supported all previous findings of the compliance committee. However, on this occasion the European Commission rejected the committee’s findings; following pressure by government ministers, the EU adopted a compromise position in which it simply agreed to ‘take note’ of the findings. Yet even this stance was heavily criticised by several signatories to the Aarhus Convention, and a statement by NGOs described the EU’s stance as ‘palpably hypocritical’.

The European Environmental Bureau has been active in seeking the EU’s compliance. Its secretary-general, Jeremy Wates, said: ‘This has been a week of humiliation for the EU, which stems from the Commission’s stubborn resistance to having its decisions on environmental matters challengeable in the EU courts the way the decisions of national authorities can be challenged at national level. Not a single government or party to the Convention supported the EU’s position. The Commission should immediately start work on revising the relevant EU legislation to bring it into line with international law.’